Enabling Lean MRO

Controlling operating costs and improving performance by applying lean principles and IT solutions to maintenance operations.


All fleet aircraft operators fly with the same business rule in mind — an aircraft sitting on the ground because of maintenance requirements generates no revenue (commercial) and detracts from overall mission readiness (military).

Driven by ever-changing business models, global competition, high fuel costs, and other unavoidable doing-business costs, fleet aircraft operators (both commercial and military) have developed a simple business strategy — control operating costs across the broad spectrum of the aircraft maintenance cycle by implementing processes designed to mitigate economic fluctuations.

MRO benefits and savings

Many fleet aircraft operators have realized some value and savings by implementing in-house maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) profit centers and/or by outsourcing their aircraft maintenance activities to established MROs. In turn, these MROs are increasingly applying lean/Six Sigma principles and techniques to their operations to achieve dramatic and sustainable performance improvements.

Unfortunately, most MROs never realize peak effectiveness from these initiatives because they have failed to properly support them with an information technology (IT) solution that provides the broad visibility and effective data needed for true knowledge-based decisions.

Today, MRO operations account for 15 to 18 percent of the fleet aircraft operator’s total operating costs. Aircraft undergoing scheduled-maintenance actions, or aircraft delayed from being returned to service because of scheduled-maintenance actions, also create the need for additional capital expenditures for the spare aircraft needed to meet flight-dispatch schedules. The significance of these costs highlights the MRO industry as a key business area for targeted transformation.

Lean MRO, in conjunction with an optimized maintenance program, enables MROs to eliminate nonproductive or unnecessary tasks from their process-event critical paths, improve maintenance team performance, increase the yield of scheduled maintenance actions, and increase supply chain effectiveness. With these enhancements, maintenance teams can maximize information re-use, manage the complexity arising from asset variation, and reduce the time spent performing tangential tasks like information searches and data downloads.

When properly implemented, lean with Six Sigma helps reduce and eliminate the root causes of defects and unwanted process variability. When employed together, the following lean/Six Sigma principles have the potential to generate significant performance improvements:

  • Define value from the customer’s perspective
  • Clearly identify value streams in business processes
  • Execute work assignments to optimize value
  • Assure that every process adds value
  • Remove obstacles to value creation
  • Continuously reduce or eliminate waste
  • Reduce process variability; focus on data and measurements
  • Develop a culture intolerant of waste and defects
  • Involve every employee in continuous improvement

Performance improvements

Lean/Six Sigma-enhanced production processes provide opportunities to protect future revenues through true competitiveness. Industry statistics suggest that with lean/Six Sigma, MROs can achieve extraordinary performance improvements. Over a three- to five-year period, it is not uncommon to realize significant savings in: labor productivity, inventory reduction, defect reduction, lead time reduction, hangar or work space reduction, increased capacity, and on-time delivery improvements.

In addition to enhanced processes, Lean/Six Sigma-qualified aviation-maintenance subject matter experts provide valuable, enterprisewide insights into maintenance programs and schedules. These individuals possess the background and experience to:

  • Evaluate and redesign fleet maintenance programs or schedules to eliminate wasted efforts arising from poorly sequenced, too-frequent, or unnecessary tasks
  • Assess planning and proffer advice on optimizing check packages to increase production velocity and flexibility while reducing process complexity
  • Help implement an adaptable system response to an FAA continuing analysis and surveillance system (CASS)
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